Monday, February 22, 2016

My friend, Sue, recently sent me a reflection about grief that really resonated with me. I do not know the author, but would like to share a few of their thoughts:
There is no pushing through,
But rather
There is absorption
And grief is not something that you complete
But rather you endure
Grief is not a task to finish,
And move on,
But an element of yourself
An alteration of your being
A new way of seeing
A new definition of self

I consider myself newly defined, though different from a year ago, I am better, stronger, more independent and more confident. I did it. I suffered an awful loss after an unnecessary terminal illness. I lost my best friend who was supposed to spend 40 years with me. He promised. He is still with me, just in a different way. I feel his strength. I feel his support. And, yes, sometimes I feel his head nodding in concern  saying, "Now Kasey!"  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mind Over Matter: My Seven Stages of Grief: Acceptance and Hope

Mind Over Matter: My Seven Stages of Grief: Acceptance and Hope: ACCEPTANCE & HOPE During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the  reality of yo...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Acceptance and Hope

During this, the last of the seven stages in this grief model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. Acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can never return to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy. But you will find a way forward.

You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future. Eventually, you will be able to think about your lost loved one without pain; sadness, yes, but the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and yes, even find joy again in the experience of living.

It is Valentine's Day. A day I haven't celebrated since my mother died on it twelve years ago, three days before my parents' 42nd anniversary. They were the icon of unconditional love, mutual respect, complete trust and a strong, loving companionship. They greeted one another with hugs and kisses. They never once argued in front of my sisters and me. I never knew of a fight or disagreement between them. Oh, I yearned for such a relationship for many years before God graced me with Craig. 

Craig, I believe, was sent to me by my mother a month after her death which was exactly two years after his mother's death. He was a gift from the very beginning and somehow I knew this! Our relationship was one that may never be repeated for me in my life. 

I was spoiled, really spoiled. I could do no wrong, no matter what. We laughed about the very things that cause most couples to argue and fight. We both came from the rare parents who actually loved and cared for one another and showed it. We both yearned for such a relationship after a few failed attempts with others. Craig and I were unique, blessed and truly in love. We accepted each other 100% for who we were without ever attempting to change the other. We sought  opportunities to show our affection, to give to the other, to make the other's day more special. We didn't criticize. We never hurt each other intentionally or not. I can't even imagine ever saying a hurtful word to Craig or ever feeling anything negative towards him. That simply wasn't us.

I can never replace Craig. I realize that.  I have memories of a relationship and experiences that make me happy and no one can take that away from me. I am grateful. Yes, I miss Craig every day. Yes, I still cry. And, yes, it still hurts. But I was given a beautiful gift for which I feel blessed. So, today is a good day. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Reconstruction and Working Through


Well, it has been one full year since Craig, my dear husband, passed away. Oh, what a year...

Fond memories, once-in-a-lifetime experiences  and lifelong friends were gained from my relationship with Craig. However, pain, loneliness, hurt, anger and fear occupied part of my being, due to the state of affairs and relationships with which I was left.  I always try to see the positive and count my blessings, that is simply the way I was raised. I tried to spend the year dancing, writing, celebrating my husband's life, and, attempting to  live life...without him. I knew I was blessed. I knew I had more in eleven years with Craig than most people have in fifty years of marriage. I was grateful. 

I have always been an independent woman. I had no problem going to establishments alone, golfing alone, taking walks and biking alone. But, I had my best friend to return to after each excursion. I had my best buddy to share the experience with and, of course, any humor I experienced with each event. This past year I simply came home to a puppy who really didn't want to hear my stories..even the funny ones:(

But with each challenge and with every single  feeling of pain or loneliness, I was accompanied by more friends, family and support than a person could ever want. I was surrounded, even in my darkest times. They all seemed to know. At times when I would be heading to school on a Friday, knowing the weekend without Craig was here, my girlfriends would text me messages of love and support. On Mondays, when I began my lonely, structured week, my friend would take me for a walk. Weekends that were the loneliest, my family and friends were always wanting to get together to dine and spend time together. Friends called each week to catch up with me. My colleagues were beyond gracious and good to me, always checking in on me. For all of the wonderful people in my life, I am forever grateful. 

Yes, it was a difficult and trying year, but it was also a year of growth. You never know your potential until you are put to the test. Apparently, after all of these years thinking I could never live alone, I guess I can. I don't prefer it, I just know now that I CAN actually live alone. I also learned that I can celebrate my birthday and holidays without Craig being there with me physically. He was certainly the king of fun, but somehow I made it through all of the celebrations without him and was somehow able to enjoy myself. Maybe he was there with me in spirit. I would like to believe that is true.

I am forever grateful for the life I had with Craig. No one can take away the memories we made together. I am also grateful for my insistent need to take photos and selfies everywhere we went. No one can take those away either. I was certainly blessed with experiences of a lifetime! 

I am a better and stronger person because of my loss. I learned about my abilities and strengths. I learned I am able to stand up for myself and for what is right. I am independent, but not alone. I am not as domestically challenged as I always thought, or maybe I just got better in order to survive. 

One thing is for certain, because of Craig, I have not only been changed for the better, but also, I have been changed for good. 

This weekend I am embracing it three-fold: 

1. Alone. I will spend his anniversary day alone. I will receive some pampering at a spa, but in essance, I will be alone. This will be a time to reflect, release and regroup. 

2. Family/Friends. I will spend the evening with my sisters and my one bestie (my rocks). We will imbibe, play games, cry, laugh, share fond Craigee memories and cry some more. 

3. My new friend. I will finish the weekend with the kind, caring and very understanding man who has been in my life for the past three months. He got through my melt-down in December, so, hell, he can handle anything now:) I think at this point he could write a book about Craig..

It is time to move forward, accept my life as it is, be grateful for those who have stayed in my life, accept those who have not and, well, .....just  DANCE. 

My friend sent me this quote on FB and it may always resonate with me: 
"Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we should still dance!"

So, with this anniversary of the loss of the life of my dear husband, I encourage each and every one of you to get out this weekend and dance like it is the last dance of your life!

Monday, January 18, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Reconstruction and Working Through


As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

I certainly needed to reconstruct myself and several aspects of my life. I had avoided and pushed some people out of my life, for no real good reason at all. I had pushed church out of my life, as well. Not because I was angry with God or anything like that. I certainly recognize that Craig was a gift to me and time with any gift is limited. 

No, I pushed away the church and the church people, my friends, because I felt that had been Craig's home and Craig's friends. He had been a member at The Old Stone Church for over twenty-five years. He married his first wife there and raised his two children in that church. It was their home for far longer than it had been mine. Craig had been a deacon and trustee at his church and was a respected member and friend to many. 

It was bad enough I was literally living in the home Craig had with his first wife and children, but to continue in his church just seemed odd. Dr. Mark, the head Pastor, reached out to me a number of times and even had my sisters take me to service about a month or so after Craig's funeral. It was an awful experience for me. I fought tears the entire service. The memories of Craig holding my hand in service hurt. The whole experience hurt and made me want to cry, but of course, I did not want to cry and hurt, so I avoided the church the rest of the year. 

I avoided those friends last year, as well. In my head, I was just simplifying my life and going back to my foundation of friends and family to get through the year. Thankfully, one church member continued to reach out to me. For this, I am grateful. She gave me the strength and courage to respond favorably to a church party invitation. It would have been simple to decline, real simple, but the right thing to do was to stop hiding and start healing. 

I knew that seeing these friends was going to cause a lot of heartache and pain. I actually felt some anxiety and fought tears the day of the party. My boyfriend encouraged me to just cry and allow myself to feel the pain. He reiterated that at some point I am going to have to stop celebrating my husband and start feeling the pain of my loss. I agreed. I also agreed that this was not the time for me to be introducing him to this group of friends. I needed to reconnect with my church friends  first and then I could move forward with them and him. 

I am grateful that I was given the courage to attend this party. The hostesses and guests were beyond gracious to me. I felt right at home and like I hadn't actually missed an entire year with all of them. They welcomed me and all wanted to know more about my new life. They had followed me on Facebook and inquired about my dog, my fun summer, school and some other friends who they had met from Craig and me. They were so warm and carrying to me.  For this, I am grateful. 

I even had an opportunity to catch up with the pastor, who is by far the best pastor I ever met. I miss hearing his weekly messages, but just am not ready to go back to that church. It was Craig's home. Part of me wants a fresh start in another church. I certainly want a fresh start in another house, which will hopefully happen this summer. 

I need to redefine me. Just me. I am no longer Craig's wife. I am just me. I need to rediscover my faith, who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I am eagerly embracing this new journey. I do Believe this year of reconstruction will be a good year. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: The Upward Turn

"As you start to adjust to life without your dear one, your life becomes a little calmer and more  organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your "depression" begins to lift slightly."

I've never made a "New Year's Resolution" as I know myself better. However, this year was different. I vowed to heal in 2016. I literally awoke on January 1st, just two days after my meltdown at the Trans Siberian Orchestra concert, and threw an awful fit over a dog mess. I slammed, stomped, screamed, swore and scared the hell out of my boyfriend. Sadly, I immediately felt relief, release and strength. Shortly after, I went out with my girlfriends and was renewed, and a bit in shock over my behavior. But, hey, I got that out of my system. 

I was determined to have a better, no a great, 2016. Clearly, 2015 was not the best year given the death of my husband, loss of so-called-friends and the financial mess I had to face. It can always be much worse and I certainly recognize this. I am always grateful for all that I had and do have. I am simply now on a mission to clean up, wipe out, fix and restore relationships, rumors, feelings, and well, myself. Time to turn my frown upside down, move forward, allow myself to feel again and not run from myself. 

"Operation Clean Up" is now in progress. I reached out to my pastor who I hadn't seen since Craig's death. I reached out to my step daughter making amends after a six month silence. I confronted the man who was slandering me as he was clearly unaware of the reality of Craig's Will. I planned a spa day and getaway for the anniversary weekend of Craig's death. I planned another getaway for Valentine's weekend. 

I feel good. I feel renewed. I needed that December knockdown. I needed the meltdown and the fit of rage. All were a part of my healing. I don't like those feelings and am not naturally one to cry and yell, but I needed to release in those ways and it really felt good! 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Depression, Reflection, Loneliness


"Just when your friends may think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be "talked out of it" by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of

During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair."

NAILED IT!!! I planned this one quite well! I was going to go into depression mode from Craig's birthday (11/11) to Valentine's Day-Three long months of hibernation, sadness and feeling lonely. I would remember past birthday celebrations, all of our holiday celebrations and the awful last days and hours to his death. I had pictures, books and videos to view to  help release the tears...unfortunately, to no avail. 

You see, there was only one small problem, All along, I had no real desire to fully execute this plan. I still wanted to dance and play and laugh. I had just started dating a wonderful man and certainly didn't want to have any meltdowns in front of him! I was excited about getting back on my feet and having someone to share my life with again. There was no time or room for "cra-cra." I had to be that happy-go-lucky girl he met a few weeks before my planned melt-down. Good luck, Kasey!

Luckily, I had the pleasure of dining with several dynamic women from all different parts of my world over my winter break. I explained where I was emotionally with Craig's death and explained how I had planned my meltdown but was having some issues executing it. They either laughed or looked at me sadly, but all stated the same message: 
You can't just PLAN your meltdown! 
Yes, I can. 
No, You can't!
Yes, I can!

And so the conversations went. 
Until a few of them strongly suggested I seek counseling. WHAT? HELLO! I AM A COUNSELOR!!! I DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' COUNSELOR!!!!!!
Yep, that was the kick in the ass I needed to allow myself to fully grieve!

I knew I had built-up sadness. I knew I needed to just CRY! I knew I needed to be alone more to reflect. But that is not my personality. I am "Counselor Kasey," "Crazy Kasey." I like to be happy, not sad. So, I fought it real hard all these months until I finally had my first breakdown on December the Transiberian front of a few of my closest friends...and, yep, my new boyfriend. LOVELY. Timing is everything. My well-planned grief-tour was very poorly executed....but, damn, it felt really good! 

Thank goodness my friends were prepared for my meltdown and were able to comfort me. Also, thank goodness my dear boyfriend was patient and understanding. This can't be easy for him, that is for certain. What kind of basket case did he get himself involved with? Thankfully, he understood and was able to talk with me about my meltdown and well, my entire "Grief Tour" that officially hit home in December. Ugh. 

I may have to have a few more of these crying fits in the next few weeks or months. Actually, I AM going to have a few more of these crying fits!  What a release! I felt relieved, comforted and stronger.  Next time, however, I may try it in the comfort of my own some sappy "Hallmark for Women" movie. Time to watch "The Notebook"!

Depression, reflection and loneliness, You have nothing on me!!! 

Friday, January 8, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Anger and Bargaining


"Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the death on someone else. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion. 
You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair ("I will never drink again if you just bring him back")"

Ok, in all honesty, I NEVER said (or thought), "I will never drink again if you just bring him back." I knew better:) I knew I had a good thing from the moment I met Craig. I recognized he was a gift and knew my time with him was limited as life on Earth is not eternal. I was truly grateful for the time I had with Craig and  the memories that couldn't be taken away. I was also well aware our relationship was extraordinary and most people don't experience such unconditional love, respect and trust from a partner the near eleven years I had with Craig was a true blessing! 

But, I can also honestly say that the only time I ever yelled at my husband was shortly after his death and my rude discovery of the financial mess I was left with thanks to the very convoluted and false Will. I actually screamed at him in my bedroom. Unfortunately, he wasn't alive to defend himself and assure me that "This, too, shall pass!" I felt awful for the outburst and vowed to not allow this mess unfold me. I had to keep believing I would get through all of this and be ok financially...and mentally. 

I know some anger occasionally  reared its ugly head when I thought about the people who took advantage of my husband's generosity and good nature. There were a few. Maybe I was just venting my hurt and pain out on them. What would Freud say? 

Anger also erupted not-so-softly in December as I discovered some false accusations were made about me regarding my stepkids and the Will. It just took one person to start some rumors, I am guessing because he, too, was hurting. Taking it out on me, however, was not the way to go! I was a mess that month and let it get the best of me. I was hurt and distraught that someone was backstabbing me in this way. 

I had to let go of that anger, too, as I know the truth, my friends and family know the truth, and, well, the truth is all in a well organized, 100+ paged professional binder labeled "The Estate of Craig and Katherine Kellem." 

Some people suck. I guess that is the anger in my talking. Looks like I have successfully gone through Anger and Bargaining! Yay, me!!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Pain & Guilt


"As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs. You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn't do with your loved one. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase." 

Damnit! I clearly missed this memo: "and not...escape from it with alcohol"....Oopsie daisie!  After not drinking for about 1 1/2 years during my husband's treatment program, I returned like a champion. It didn't last long as my MS prevailed and my left leg which I kindly named, "Nelly," let me know that drinking was not going to be the answer to my pain! Damn, Nelly!

I do remember some  feelings of pain and certainly remember things being real chaotic when I made the rude discovery a month after my husband passed away that basically my husband's Will was null and void. Yep, he rewrote our 2006 Will right after his diagnosis in early 2013 while he was heavily doped up and, well, according to my lawyer, gave his company, instead of his family, everything except my dirty laundry. Crap. So much for a legal, notarized document written by a team of expensive lawyers. 

Yep, there was chaos and pain, alright. WTH? 

I  certainly felt  remorse for not getting my own life insurance for my husband, as the one indicated in the WILL actually went to his company. I filled in a few life insurance forms during his illness, but was always reassured that I would have "More money than 'I' would know what to do with," so I left this all in the hands of my heavily sedated husband. Oh, yes, there was remorse. 

And yes, life certainly felt chaotic and scary as my once financially stable, ok financially spoiled,  livelihood was questionable now. Instead of limos, I was using Uber.  I found a less expensive cleaning lady, lawn service and cut a few other corners. OK, I wasn't desolate, but I wasn't living "la vida loca!" Despite still being a shareholder/part owner of my husband's company, I no longer  had access  to  the loges, suites and floor tickets for all of our major sports games. Back to the bleachers:) 

Despite it all, I just had to believe things would eventually work out for the children and me. I finally understood that my husband did all of this to keep his companies going and his employees employed. The kids and I would be financially ok...eventually. So, I buried the hurt and pain from this misfortune, as well. I can't undo it. I can't change it. I have to accept what it is and move forward the best I can. 

So far, I am getting through these seven stages of grief just great!!! Keep up the great work, Kasey! 

Monday, January 4, 2016

My Seven Stages of Grief: Denial & Shock


You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of
the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from
being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

Oh, hell yah! "Denial" was my middle name! I ran like a deer during hunting season and I didn't look back for months. It started two days after we put Craig to rest. My once filled home was emptied rapidly. All of our friends went home, my step children returned to their homes out of state and I left town with little knowledge of where I was heading or why I was going there. I was simply running away from reality and I am one quick runner!

After that two week hiatus, I continued to run, though in the form of playing hard with my friends and family. I spent the Spring, Summer and Fall dancing my heart away, traveling more and staying away from my home as much as I could. Oh, I was the master of Denial!

I gained confidence and independence through this time. Suddenly, I was "Woman hear me roar!" and could independently navigate around town after years of being carted around in a limo or by Craig. I could go to parties, bars, restaurants and music venues by myself and had no problem dancing anywhere I went. 

By the time I returned home each evening, I was exhausted and hit the bed hard. This strategically allowed for no time to grieve. Next day: Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat. 

No regrets. I was already in the "Operation Meltdown" planning process and believed I could hold out all emotions until Craig's 60th birthday. I had mastered  pushing my feelings down to the core for years, so what's another few months? Right???

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What is Grief? What is Mourning?

Before I can go on, let me give you a little background on my recovery thus far:

First and foremost, let's understand what exactly "Grief" and "Mourning" mean according to good old Google:

Grief: deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death

synonyms: sorrow, misery, sadness, anguish, pain, distress, heartache, heartbreak, agony,torment, affliction, suffering, woe, desolation, dejection, despair; mourning, mournfulness,
bereavement, lamentation.

Mourning:  the expression of deep sorrow for someone who has died.

synonyms: grief, grieving, sorrowing, lamentation, lament, keening, wailing, weeping!

My grief began long before Craig passed away, as I knew his death was inevitable. I hid it well, pushing it deep down inside of me, but I certainly knew my time with him was limited and for that, I was heartbroken, sad and hurting inside. But, his last days on Earth weren't about me, they were about him and I did all I could to keep him comfortable, happy, entertained and distracted from reality. 

Although we did not have the traditional wake, but instead a "Celebration of Life" there was still a lot of weeping and wailing that occurred that night and the day of Craig's funeral. Alcohol certainly added to the grief, probably not in the best way, but it was how most of us knew how to cope. I felt my role during this time was to comfort others, keep the mood light, and well, entertain. Probably the beginning of my denial!

I guess this means we need to revisit the seven stages of grief before I begin the end of this journey...stay tuned:)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Planning my Grief

So, most of you don’t know that I actually planned my grief and mourning to occur from November 11, 2015 to February 14, 2016...because that's what OCD counselors do, right? 

It made perfect sense as it included all of the significant and difficult memories including Craig’s rapid decline last Fall/Winter, his 60th birthday, Thanksgiving, all of the traditional Christmas celebrations, New Years Eve, the 1st anniversary of Craig’s death (1/22) and Valentines Day. I was going to hibernate in my ma'am cave each evening, travel, write my next book and somehow, some way recover during this time. 

Well, I had the joy and opportunity to dine with several uplifting, encouraging and inspirational women over this break to whom I shared my great plan: 
Operation Meltdown: Kasey's Great Grief Plan!

At the time I was not executing the plan very well and it was quite obvious as several friends (and family) strongly suggested I seek counseling:)  But, January 1st came and I was overwhelmed with strength, empowerment and determination to heal, reconstruct and accept all of my life as it is now.  

If by February 15th, I am not in a good place, I will succumb to therapy (blah blah blah), but for now, I do believe I can successfully recover alone and with a little help (time, tears, laughter, wine...) from my friends and family.

I will heal. I believe. 

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